T Nation

Al Queda in Iraq


Review of strategy against Al-Queda in Iraq by Harold Hutchinson via Strategypage.com

Why Al Qaeda Is Retreating From Iraq
April 30, 2006:

Despite the many brickbats of the media, al Qaeda has been defeated in Iraq, and is now retreating to lick its wounds where it can. If it can. Just over four and a half years, al Qaeda has gone from being the dominant terrorist group in the world to a defeated shell of its former self. In trying to defeat the United States, al Qaeda made three big mistakes: They fought the last information war, they underestimated the American leadership, and they also managed to anger the Iraqi people.

From the moment the United States and al Qaeda began fighting in Afghanistan, the terrorists were looking for a chance to re-create images similar to those of American troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993 or Walter Cronkite calling the Vietnam War a stalemate in 1968. It was hoped that such a moment would cause a dramatic drop in support for the war among the American people and force the United States out of Iraq. It did not happen.

The first problem was that al Qaeda failed to realize just how much the terrain had shifted on the media battlefield, particularly the growth of alternative outlets. In 1993, CNN was the only 24-hour news network. In 1996, two other 24-hour news networks were founded, MSNBC on July 15, and Fox News on October 7. These started to establish competition. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Fox News began pulling ahead of the other two networks, largely because it was taking a position that was seen as being reasonably supportive of the American efforts.

Also on the media front, the Internet was already becoming a major player. In 1998, Matt Drudge was showing that one person with a web site could break a major story. In 2004, a few bloggers were able to start the chain of events that led to Dan Rather's retirement from CBS. In 2006, bloggers are now an acknowledged player on the media battlefield. These efforts were dismissed by al Qaeda, and as a result, while al Qaeda hit its target, the effect was grossly minimized due to the fact that the "silent majority" now had tools by which they could be heard. The media created a false picture after the 1968 Tet Offensive, but was unable to do the same in Iraq.

The next mistake was underestimating American leadership. Al Qaeda assumed that the posture of the Clinton Administration (specifically, treating terrorism as a law-enforcement issue) would continue. Instead, the Bush Administration went after al Qaeda's host (the Taliban regime Afghanistan), then proceeded to go after another regime that sponsored terrorism (Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq ? as indicated by documents recovered after the liberation of Iraq in 2003). Then, when the media firestorms hit, rather than fold as the Clinton Administration did after the CNN images were shown in 1993, the Bush Administration stayed the course. This eventually unnerved al Qaeda, and led to its third, and most fatal, mistake.

The third mistake was to wage a campaign of terror against Iraqi civilians. This was intended to intimidate them into at least acquiescing to al Qaeda's presence, if not supporting al Qaeda at all. It didn't work. Instead, as the car bombs went off , and drew CNN headlines in the United States, al Qaeda managed to become more and more unpopular with Iraqis. Even the Arab Sunnis began to view the Americans, who had displaced them from the power they had held under Saddam, as a better option than supporting al Qaeda. Eventually, the Sunnis joined the democratic process and when that happened, al Qaeda's eventual defeat was assured with increasing Sunni participation over three elections in the space of less than a year.

These three mistakes resulted in the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, a defeat has left that group largely discredited. Osama bin Laden is now reduced to making audio tapes with grand pronouncements which have little or no likelihood of ever becoming reality, since al Qaeda has no safe havens where they can train new recruits, nor countries willing to support them. In less than five years, al Qaeda has gone from being feared by the world, to little more than a sideshow in the long war that the United States is now fighting.

? Harold C. Hutchison


Wait a minute.

I thought Clinton had terrorism on the run and Iraq was a "Vietnam like quagmire" that we could not win?

This just couldn't be true :wink:


Phase 1: complete.


Umm . . . yeah, except Al Qaeda and their ilk are not even dreaming of retreating from Iraq. They've certainly made some mistakes, like blowing up civilians and mosques, which has lost them favor in some parts, but they're not packing up and leaving by any stretch.

Furthermore, everyone is making this same mistake of believing that this somewhat false construct of "Al Qaeda" as a formal organization is what we're at war with. Zarqawi took on the name "Al Qaeda in Iraq" at one point so he could draw funding from Bin Laden and his ilk. Now he's apparently merged with other likeminded groups in Iraq under some other umbrella name (which I forget right now). None of that matters; it's all semantics.

"Al Qaeda" as we knew it, a centralized network headed by Bin Ladena and Zawahiri out of Afghanistan, has essentially almost ceased to exist, but that's not very relevant.

That fact that it's now mutated and dispersed makes those who used to be part of "Al Qaeda" much harder to track down. Furthermore, it is not this one formal organization that is the Grand Bogey Man out there with which we are at war. We are not at war with the "Al Qaeda" nameplate. We are at war with fundamentalist Islam, and fundamentalist Islam has been tremendously invigorated by our actions in Iraq, with no signs of their efforts abating, specifically in Iraq itself.


Great post. Way to get to the heart of the matter: not that Al Qaeda isn't important, but that's it's incredibly decentralized, has become more so since the fall of the Taliban, and is enmeshed with a whole host of other radical Muslim extremist groups, who sometimes work together, sometimes coordinate, and sometimes take credit for each other's attacks.


They have pretty much get past the dreaming stage. Few if any foreigners left in Al-Queda in Iraq. The locals don't seem as committed.

Odly somewhat under reported in the MSM.

Why Zarqawi Is All Alone

May 2, 2006: Without much fanfare or publicity, American and British commandoes have taken apart al Qaeda's operation in Iraq. About the only non-Iraqi al Qaeda leader left in Iraq is military leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian. In the last few months, American commandoes nearly caught Zarqawi at least three times. On April 16th and 25th, raids killed and captured over twenty al Qaeda members. Interrogations of the captured men indicated that Zarqawi was in the area. Also captured, before it showed up on an al Qaeda web site, was a video of Zarqawi, holding an American M249 light machinegun. Several of these have been lost, usually from vehicles hit by roadside bombs, and abandoned by their crews. In the video, Zarqawi pleaded for Iraqi Sunni Arabs to support him and not, as more and more Sunni Arabs are doing, the democratically elected government. Zarqawi believes, as does al Qaeda, that democracy is un-Islamic. Only God, through self-selected clerics, can run a country.

SOCOM (Special Forces Command) has had a task force going after al Qaeda in Iraq ever since Saddam was captured in early 2004. Since al Qaeda turned Zarqawi into a symbol for the movement in Iraq, SOCOM was especially keen on getting him. A special task force was set up to take on the al Qaeda leadership. This one is currently called Task Force 145 (previous tags were TF 626, TF 121 and at one point, no name at all). Currently, the task force is concentrating its operations southwest of Baghdad, in one of the last areas where al Qaeda and Saddam still have a lot of popular support. The two April raids were in the town of Yusufiyah.

Currently, TF 145 is divided into four sub units. Task Force West has several dozen commandoes from the U.S. Navy SEAL DevGroup, and a company of U.S. Army Rangers. Task Force Central has several dozen men from U.S. Army Delta Force and a company of Rangers. Task Force North has a about a dozen men from Delta Force, and a company of Rangers. Task Force Black has a few dozen SAS commandoes, with a company of British "Rangers" (the new Special Forces Support Group). TF 145 has a small headquarters element, plus a large intelligence operation, most of which is back in the United States, and connected in real time via satellite. There are also SOCOM helicopters and aircraft present.

The SOCOM intel effort has its hooks into everyone else's intelligence operations, and gets any info related to al Qaeda, and especially al Qaeda leadership. The basic drill is for one of the four smaller Task Forces to grab a likely bit of info and quickly plan and execute a raid. The rangers provide muscle (perimeter security, read guard) , as needed, and keep any other unfriendlies away, while the SEAL, Delta or SAS commandoes go in after the main target. The objective is to capture people alive, if possible, because interrogations and examination of documents starts immediately. The idea is to get fresh information that will lead to other al Qaeda people. Often this is the case, in which the commandoes and rangers are immediately off to another raid. Most of this takes place at night, and several raids may be carried out between dusk and dawn.

The Task Force has been so successful that, except for Zarqawi, there are no more foreigners (Saudis, Jordanians, etc) in the Iraqi al Qaeda leadership. It's all Iraqis, and these guys are proving just as vulnerable to informers as the foreigners (who stood out because of their accent and body language) were. Most Sunni Arabs are tired of all the violence, and are backing the government by passing on (and getting paid for) tips on where Zarqawi and his crew are hiding out.

TF 145 almost got Zarqawi last February, and in the last six months have been hammering al Qaeda, and it's Sunni Arab supporters heavily. There are still several well armed gangs and tribal militias in the "Sunni Triangle" of central Iraq, and some of these have been persuaded to make peace with the government in order to avoid a visit from TF 145. Iraqis are big fans of American action movies. And they note that a visit from TF 145 is just like the movies, except for the real bullets, blood and dead bodies. So far, two dozen senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed or (mostly) captured, while about 200 al Qaeda leaders, who have had direct contact with Zarqawi, have been taken as well.

The success of the Rangers in these operations has led to a request from SOCOM for a battalion of American paratroopers (most Rangers are recruited from the paratrooper divisions.) Actually, SOCOM wants three paratrooper battalions, each given extra training for SOCOM type missions, and then sent to Iraq for three month tours.

New tactics and techniques developed by TF 145 has led to the establishment of similar raiding units (company strength, a hundred or so Special Forces troops) for four of the major combatant commands (each of which is responsible for American military operations in a specific part of the world.)

The TF 145 operations have demonstrated once more that good intelligence, and rapid exploitation of that information, is the key to success. Often, the second raid of the night hits an al Qaeda safe house that has not yet learned of the one taken an hour or so earlier. This speed makes the raids safer for the attackers, and more successful as well.

From James Dunnigan at Strategypage.com




So, who are we fighting now then? The names may have all changed, but they are still planting IED's aren't they?



Good post, and I was actually thinking of posting an article that described the same exact thing (the TF 145 operations and their hunt for Zarqawi) as an example of at least something positive that looks to be going on there. However, I would argue that the fact that much of his leadership is now composed of Iraqis as opposed to foreigners is not necessarily a negative for Zarqawi, and doesn't necessarily change his operational tempo or effectiveness. It might even be a positive for him, as it will make his group more palatable in the eyes of some Iraqis. So whether "Al Qaeda in Iraq" (or whatever it's called now) is composed of locals or foreigners isn't really the issue -- the group is still there and they're still effective, unfortunately. As are many unrelated militant Islamic groups operating in Iraq.

Let's keep in mind, though, that Al Qaeda and likeminded groups are thought to make up only a small percentage of the insurgency in Iraq (something on the order of 10%, from what I've read).

I'm pulling for us to make this thing work, but I'm honestly not optimistic at all.

And yes, we might capture or kill Zarqawi (I hope we skin him alive on national TV), but that isn't likely to change much in the grand scheme.


Mainly more secular, ex-Bathist Iraqi Sunnis.


I take that back, my error.



I would argue what effective means in the context of the battle we are in.

The leaders are dead, our casualty rate is way down and to be realistic the insuregency really does not have a chance of success. They are defeated at every turn, they have no hope of rescue and the they most definetly do not have the support of the population.

It is a war of attrition and the rate at which they are being killed or rendered impudent far exceeds what they can do in response.

I am looking at this from a standppoint of strategy. Of course once the effect of the media and the opposition is added in, certainly the chances of a political defeat become more likely.

My hope is that we hear about only the tip of the iceberg and that the actual operations against Al-Queda are more lethal then the news we get.


Depleted uranium is not used in "bombing" as the article suggests. It's too expensive. This is propoganda nothing more.

Depleted Uranium is an artillery munition used against armor, by armored vehicles or anti-armor artillery such as fired by the A-10. DU shells were infrequently used in Afganistan.

What armored units did the US deploy in Afganistan...that fired DU shells against other armored forces...please let us know?



The problem is that Al Qaeda and their ilk, like I mentioned, are only but a tiny fraction of the insurgency. Most of the insurgency is comprised of local Sunnis, mostly ex-Bathists, many of whom have military and/or intelligence training and who have become increasingly effective in their attacks. These ex-Bathists most certainly DO have the support of most of the locals in Anbar province, which is really the only area that matters.

The problem with insurgencies is that they don't have to "win" in the conventional military sense, and they know it. They just have to keep bleeding us until we leave. And given how some politicians are already talking here in the U.S., I wouldn't be surprised if the next administration high-tails it out of there really soon after taking office, if Bush doesn't do so beforehand.

There are large parts of Iraq, some entire CITIES, including much of Baghdad itself, that we DO NOT control. Period. That should tell you something. What it means is that, if we were to leave anytime soon (meaning anytime in the next few years), the guys with the most guns (and effectiveness at using them) are the ones who would take over. This leaves one of two very bad options: (1.) The Sunni ex-Bathists, or (2.) Shiite fundamendalists who are closely allied with, and quite loyal to, Iran. Pick your poison. Oh, and they'd probably have to fight it out in a long civil war before it got fully ironed out. :slight_smile:

The only way to win is to get the Iraqi military and police up and running in a cohesive, like-minded fashion before we withdraw, and from how pathetically few sulf-sufficient, fully trained brigades there are in the Iraqi military (3 years on!) and how pathetically corrupt the police forces apparently are, we're nowhere CLOSE to where we need to have them.

Which means that . . . political will at home, over the next small number of years, is likely to wane far before Iraq itself can get it together.

I don't mean to be a pessimist, just a realist. Baghdad itself is probably the most dangerous city on earth right now, according to many. Westerners couldn't dream of walking down the street there. Yes, TF 145 might capture Zarqawi soon, and I fervently hope they do. But it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. I hate to say it, but it's a fucking shambles.

I hope I'm wrong.


Terrorist Attacks Rose Sharply in 2005, State Dept. Says
Washington Post
April 29, 2006
The number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased nearly fourfold in 2005 to 11,111, with strikes in Iraq accounting for 30 percent of the total, according to statistics released by U.S. counterterrorism officials yesterday.

Hunt Intensifies For Al-Zarqawi
CBS News
May 2, 2006

Bush turned down chances to kill Zarqawi: ex-CIA spy
May 1, 2006
A former top CIA spy says the United States deliberately turned down several opportunities to kill terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

"Mr Bush had Mr Zarqawi in his sights for almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn't shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq."

Official: Al-Zarqawi caught, released
Authorities didn't realize prisoner was terrorist mastermind
December 15, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi security forces caught the most wanted man in the country last year, but released him because they didn't know who he was, the Iraqi deputy minister of interior said Thursday.

Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
Washington Post
April 10, 2006
The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program.

Hyping Zarqawi
These Power Point slides prepared for top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Casey, are startling, in that they show just how naked and calculating this deception of the American people was, listing the "home audience" as a major target of the propaganda effort.

This text describes the "results" of operation "Villainize Zarqawi."

Through aggressive Strategic Communications Abu Musab al-Zarqawi now represents:

-- Terrorism in Iraq

-- Foreign Fighters in Iraq

-- Suffering of Iraqi People (Infrastructure Attacks)

-- Denial of Aspirations (Disrupting Transfer of Sovereignty)

Over-hyped enemy on the run....


Over-hyped enemy on the run....



Very well put. There is certainly a ton of sympathy for the insurgents in Anbar, Iraq, and among the Sunnis. And leaving Iraq in the hands fo Shiite fundamentalists might be a worse alternative than another Sunni strongman.

I'm relatively pessimistic about Iraq for the same reason, not that we can't defeat the insurgency militarily (eventually), they haven't won even a platoon-sized engagement with U.S. troops since the beginning of the revolt, but that U.S. political will (both the politicians and the people) will run out before we can do so. And the responsibility for that falls largely, if not entirely, with a president who has never satisfactorily articulated a reason for winning the war beyond empty cliches.

Same exact thing happened in Vietnam, insurgency had been virtually destroyed in Tet, but by that point the American people (and certainly their leaders) had turned against the war so thoroughly that all the communists had to do was hang around until our inevitable departure. Same thing in Iraq. Military successes on the ground are almost irrelevant if the two main political questions (Can Iraq form a strong, united, non-sectarian government? and Does America have the will to keep its troops in Iraq in significant numbers for several more years?) aren't answered satisfactorily.



I appreciate you presenting these excellent articles.

Your commentary about the media and opponents of the war surrendering, is also right on.

Damn, guys on this forum trip over each other waving the white flag and making sure negatives are highlighted at all times.

Further, these same people seem to be obsessed with discounting positive developments.

From a purely American standpoint, you'd think it would be a relief to see good news. Since the U.S. isn't pulling out any time soon (no matter how many guys repeatedly throw in the towel) you'd think your articles would be cause for some celebration.

Hedo, would you say that this counter-insurgency group is somewhat unique? Would it be fair to say that it is a good example of the Pentagon (RUMSFELD), adapting to the situation on the ground?

I'd be curious as to your thoughts.



Hedo knows he's in trouble when his only ardent supporter is Jerffy!


Who ever said anything about throwing in the white towel??